Yesterday I wrote that I find Christianity beautiful, wise, compassionate, and beneficial. Why, then, am I not a Christian?
It’s very simple. I don’t believe it happens to be true. That’s it; there is no other reason.
I have not yet seen a convincing argument that God exists. Still less have I seen a convincing argument that Jesus is the Son of God, or God Himself. Now, I also can’t show that God doesn’t exist, so I’m not an atheist. I just see no particular reason to believe He does. So I’m an agnostic.
(Yes, I know that faith has its role. But faith without reason is blind, so for me, reason has to come first.)
There are of course many proofs and reasons that defenders have offered over the years for the existence of God, so it’s only fair to look at a few of those, as well as one major obstacle (in my view) to God being real.
The reason most commonly given is the existence of the universe. How can we have a Creation without a Creator? Now, modern Christianity generally doesn’t argue with science over the validity of evolution or astronomy, so most Christians these days probably agree that the universe began with a Big Bang about 14 billion years ago, and evolution is a Real Thing that Happened. But we still need God for the Big Bang, right? The spark of the universe, the laws of physics, all that.
There are two problems with this line of thinking.
First, it says that the universe must have come from somewhere – but then it immediately says that its Creator did not come from somewhere, but always existed. Now, we’re talking about very metaphysical, hypothetical questions here, so human intuition is weak. Is it really so much easier to believe that God always existed, than to believe that we’ve always had some form of multiverse that spawns off little universes like ours constantly?
Or if that’s not intuitively satisfying, consider this. In a universe with no God, there would be no matter, no energy, no laws of physics. In such a place, why shouldn’t a universe spontaneously pop into being? It seems strange to us, but only the laws of physics prevent such a thing. Without them, what’s to stop it? (I’m not saying you have to believe this is true – I don’t necessarily either – I’m just offering it as another possible way of intuitively explaining the universe that doesn’t require God.)
You could also argue that the universe and Earth are perfectly calibrated for life, custom-built for humanity, and that this suggests God. But I think the idea of a multiverse, combined with the Anthropic Principle, obviates the need for God in such calibration. (Again, I’m not saying I necessarily believe in a multiverse, I’m just showing that there’s plenty of room for doubt about God.)
There are, of course, many more arguments for God. But time is limited this morning, and the arguments have all been hashed out a thousand times before. Suffice it to say that I’ve heard many of them, and personally, I’ve found none convincing.
Finally, there’s one major stumbling block to the existence of a benevolent God, and it’s the same one everyone talks about: suffering.
Understand, when I talk about suffering, I’m not thinking of some abstract metaphysical concept. I’m thinking about Robert-François Damiens, who in 1757 was executed in the following manner. (Warning: graphic.)
Fetched from his prison cell on the morning of 28 March 1757, Damiens allegedly said “La journée sera rude” (“The day will be hard”). He was tortured first with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted assassination, was burned using sulphur; molten wax, molten lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. He was then remanded to the royal executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, who harnessed horses to his arms and legs to be dismembered. But Damiens’ limbs did not separate easily: the officiants ordered Sanson to cut Damiens’ joints with an axe. Once Damiens was dismembered to the applause of the crowd, his reportedly still-living torso was burnt at the stake.
I’m hard-pressed to believe that an all-powerful, all-loving God couldn’t have found some way to help him out here, regardless of any other circumstances. And don’t say suffering happens for the sake of free will, because plenty of suffering happens because of natural disasters.
For me, this is not an abstract thing. I have literally wept with grief and anger and shame for the sheer volume of human agony that God has allowed to happen in this world. I’m not saying you have to agree with me. I’m just saying that I take this very seriously indeed.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to be serious all the time. So if you have anything to say in response to my long ramblings, feel free to keep it light. As always, I’m open and willing to talk.